Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald is a superstar in the NFL and considered, arguably, the best defensive player in the league.
After entering the NFL in 2014, Donald won the Defensive Rookie of the Year award and made the Pro-Bowl in 2014. In 2015, he returned to the Pro Bowl and made First-Team All-Pro. On the NFL field, Donald is an absolute superstar.
In Los Angeles, Donald is a newcomer yet to even hit the Southern California beaches. His family, apparently, went without him while he was at work.
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"The weather," Donald still smiles when asked why he loves most about LA. "You can't get mad at this weather."
As it happened, LA offered a rather gloomy day on Thursday, when Donald carved out time to meet with NBCLA.com. On his off day in a bye week, the 25-year-old appeared at the Microsoft Store in Century City to take park in the Xbox NFL Player Charity Challenge, which is a Madden NFL 17 tournament where the winner gets $51,000 for his charity. Donald, who was playing for the Make-a-Wish Foundation, found a moment to talk about life on the field, off the field and his video gaming experience.
Starting with his family, Donald explains that the move to LA was initially tough.
"Living somewhere for two years and then up and moving your family and getting everything situated in a whole different city, a different state," Donald trails off as he thinks about the headaches the move caused. "But it's smooth once you get out here and get yourself situated. Everything is like everything else, at the end of the day, you're still playing football."
Seemingly, football is Donald's reference point. In speaking with the 6-foot, 284-pound tackle, one cannot help but appreciate his soft, smiling demeanor. Donald is a friendly man but keeps a low profile off the field. When asked what he does in his free time, Donald talks about his family because he misses spending time with them when he's working.
"The off days, I usually just sit back and relax with the family," Donald says he spends so much time working that he just wants to smother his family when he gets his off days. To call Donald a workaholic would not be a stretch. The level at which he excels is no accident, as the Pittsburgh native is notorious for studying film and staying late after practices.
"I just put the body of work in," Donald humbly responds when asked to explain the secret to his success. "I'm always doing something to try and improve my game, whether it's watching film or doing some extra work, doing something to keep me playing at a high level. It's a long season."
Donald adds, "When you're playing a game, it's is like taking a test. You got to watch film and study just like you go to study you book work. Just studying and knowing what to expect come game time."
With a depleted defensive line earlier in the season, Donald consistently saw double teams that possibly even bordered on triple-teams because of his ability to disrupt opposing offenses like few other NFL players.
"It's expected," Donald says about the extra attention on the field. "I guess when you get respected in this league, they try find ways to eliminate you out of the game. My job is just to find a way to keep playing at a high level and make a play no matter what. Also, it gives other guys on the [defensive line] opportunities to get one-on-ones and wins, so that's all that matter."
Always quick to build up his teammates, Donald adds, "The type of defense we got, we got a lot of playmakers that can make a lot of big time plays, and that's what we expect from them."
Along with his undeniable work ethic, Donald makes it clear that his desire to win plays a major role in his success. Occasionally, that competitive fire has pushed Donald and hurt his pocket book. Donald got ejected from the first game of the season, when his team was losing 21-0, and drew a $21,269 fine. A few weeks later, he rushed the Detroit Lions' kneel down at the end of a painful 31-28 defeat in Detroit. Donald earned a $18,231 fine on that occasion.
"Nobody likes to lose," Donald attempts to explain the incidents, one of which saw him take his helmet off and emphatically smash it on the ground on Monday Night Football in front of a national audience.
"And sometimes, it gets a little out of hand," Donald adds with a slightly embarrassed yet unapologetic smile. "That's just the competitor in me."
He tells a story about one time his older brother whooped him at the Madden video game and mixed in some healthy trash talk. The younger Donald, who obviously does not always take losing gracefully, tried to fight his older brother. As the vast majority of younger siblings can relate, fighting an older brother is a generally not a good idea.
"I tried to fight him and got my butt beat," Donald laughs. "Nobody likes to lose."
No fights were necessary on this Thursday, though, as Donald beat up on Tannehill with a convincing 44-19 victory and moved into the next round of the charity tournament.
"I'm always competitive," Donald says softly. "Anytime you got an opportunity to win, I'm going to be super competitive."
Donald and the LA Rams' next opportunity to win arrives on Nov. 6 at home against the Carolina Panthers.